A Documentary Biography
By Beaumont Glass
(Bolded text is either reinstated, updated, or new text that did not appear in the original 1988 publication.)
Lotte had good luck with Gluck. Eurydice had brought her to the attention of Caruso. Now his Iphigenia in Aulis opened the new season 1913-1914, her fourth. She sang the title role, which her ancestress Sophie Arnould had created in Paris. With it Lotte won new laurels and wonderful reviews:
…Only the Iphigenia of Fräulein Lehmann stayed entirely within the classical framework. The heartfelt warmth of her dew-fresh voice, the perfectly beautiful tone-production, the utterly convincing naturalness in action and gesture together created an unusually enchanting totality.
…Among the performer….Frl. Lehmann, deserved the palm. The talented artist, who still grows with each greater assignment, offered us an absolutely ideal Iphigenia, because here the touching simplicity of a powerful but unforced art again becomes nature….
…Fräulein Lehmann offered as Iphigenia a vocally and dramatically magnificent accomplishment…built upon the appealing line of simple, warm naturalness….
The director of the Vienna Court Opera, Hans Gregor, came to Hamburg to hear a certain tenor sing Don José; Lehmann was the Micaëla….
The next day Norbert Salter, the agent, summoned me to his hotel….I listened in amazement to several telephone conversations in which fees of thousands were bandied about like colored balls. Then, radiating good will, Salter turned his smiling face to me and said: “I’m going to tell you a story. You know who Director Gregor is, don’t you? Well, he came to Hamburg to engage a tenor and was at the Carmen performance yesterday. He listened very attentively to the tenor. And then, when we met after the performance, he pushed aside the contract I had already made out, and just said: `I’m going to engage Micaëla for Vienna. Lehmann is her name, isn’t it? All right then.'” Salter made a dramatic pause. “And here is your contract.”
I looked at him—speechless.
“Well—have you nothing to say?”
No, I had nothing to say.
I seized the pen and would have signed then and there without having read the contract at all. I saw the lengthy figure of the salary, the long term of years—did I need to think it over? Yet I did stop.
I took my Vienna contract first to Jelenko….Jelle, who wanted to keep me at the Hamburg Opera at any cost, rushed off to Dr. Loewenfeld.
“If you give her 12,000 marks a year, she’ll stay in Hamburg.”
“Twelve thousand marks! Has she become a megalomaniac? I shouldn’t dream of it.”
Two obstinate people at loggerheads!
Jelenko returned, scarlet with rage.
“He won’t do it….He thinks the Vienna contract is just bluff. But wait, little Lehmann….He’ll have to give in.”
…I went home defiantly, to find a telegram from Salter urging an immediate decision.
So I signed the Vienna contract.
After she had signed, Lotte continued to agonize over the decision and negotiations went back and forth for most of the following year. On the one hand, Vienna was a sort of Mecca for any singer in the German-speaking part of the world. An engagement there would mean a great leap forward in her career. On the other hand, she felt at home in Hamburg, where her parents seemed now so well settled. She had won the love of the Hamburg audiences and was finally in a position to get all the roles she had always longed to sing. If Hamburg had come close to meeting the salary that Vienna was offering, she would have loved to stay, in spite of the greater prestige of a Viennese engagement.
During this period Dr. Loewenfeld amassed a rather sizeable collection of scathing letters from Lotte. Fortunately they only made him laugh. Later, when she was leaving Hamburg, he told her he would take them out and read them whenever he was in a bad mood. “Now I know,” she quipped, “that you’ll think of me often.”
Meanwhile, important new roles entered her repertoire. The Countess in The Marriage of Figaro was an inner victory, considering her terror of the big aria that had nearly destroyed all her self-confidence at the Etelka Gerster school, the dread aria she had been forced to sing, lesson after lesson, week after week, until her throat was paralyzed with tension. Although she later confessed that she had never completely overcome her complex about that piece, she somehow managed to hide any trace of trepidation:
…Lotte Lemann…sang the first aria with movingly beautiful vocal quality, with cultivated taste, with genuine warmth. And she also showed her mastery of the second aria, which is very specially tricky, with an assurance that made one forget that she was singing the role for the first time…. (Hamburg critic M. L.)
…The technically difficult aria in the third act was excellently managed by the artist, as if it were a familiar possession of long standing…. (Hamburg critic M.)
With a leap into the future, here is what a London critic had to say about that same aria in 1926:
…Lotte Lehmann sang the aria…in the third act with such fullness of tone and such dignity of phrasing that it was impossible not to realize in what state of musical grace she was abiding. Obviously her atonement with physical means had been made long ago…
Twelve days after her first Countess came her first Sieglinde, a role she quickly made her own. She sometimes felt that of all her roles Sieglinde came closest to her own inner nature. Her identification with the part was almost magical. It was later to become her calling card in South America, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco.
Twice in early 1914 Lotte was called back to Berlin as a guest, in January to substitute for an indisposed Elsa, in April as a Flower-Maiden in Parsifal.
At her home theatre, she was scheduled to sing Chrysothemis in Elektra—the sort of role that can wear out one’s high notes—but she wriggled out of it through a ruse:
As much as the part challenged me, I was afraid of overtaxing my voice. It is a crazy role. I encouraged one of my colleagues to ask the director for it. He has the idea she is intriguing behind my back….I hope I can get out of it. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll regret it later, but the regret will do less harm to my voice than the part.
Lotte was so happy as Pamina in The Magic Flute that she wished it could be her debut role in Vienna. Her contract there depended upon a successful guest performance. Gregor wanted her to sing Eva in Die Meistersinger near the end of April. Loewenfeld refused to give her leave. Her guest performance in Vienna was postponed until the fall. She had not yet sung the part of Eva; that came her way near the end of the season. Meanwhile Pamina won raves for Lotte and a scolding for Loewenfeld:
…Frl. Lehmann portrayed Pamina with winning naturalness, sang the part with her own sort of refined musical conception and with an innerness of tone and expression that make it painfully regrettable that Dr. Loewenfeld was not capable of keeping at his institute for many years to come such an outstanding talent…. (M.)
…Fräulein Lehmann is the best Pamina one can imagine. The loveliness of her appearance, the purity of her vocal sound, the warmth of her feeling, and the instinctive accuracy of aim in her musical taste which always dictates the right degree of expression to that warmth of feeling—all that together plus an unblemished singing technique makes a Pamina as one seldom finds her…. (M. L.)
Lotte’s next assignment was much less to her taste. In Orpheus in the Underworld, Offenbach’s parody of Gluck, Greek mythology, and the Second Empire, she was cast as Eurydice. At that point in her blossoming career, she felt no affinity at all with the operetta style.
I can’t tell you how tired I am. It’s just too much now with this eternal, horrible Orpheus. I still have ten more performances to sing! That’s too much for anybody….mornings endless rehearsals and then to have to sing in the evenings!
But she rose to the challenge with a flair she had never suspected. The critics found her charming.
I am blissful that even this part, which is so alien to me, came off so well. It was also a great success with the audience.
She was, of course, predestined for the role of Eva in Die Meistersinger. That was recognized from the start.
…If in yesterday’s performance this side [the deeper relationship between Eva and Sachs] of the profound Meistersinger-poetry came especially into its own, then the credit must go primarily to Fräulein Lotte Lehmann, who sang the part of Evchen for the first time and who already at this first attempt gave the figure the sharpness of outline that is essential for the goldsmith’s daughter. Eva Pogner is neither lyrical nor sentimental: she is a perfectly healthy daughter of Eve with a slight touch of thoroughly natural sensuality, and she sees things as they are. That of course does not prevent her from projecting individually very differentiated moods from her emotional spectrum, and her feelings towards Sachs are by no means limited to the affection that a niece, for instance, might feel for a friendly, fatherly uncle. She is nevertheless aware of the pain that she causes Sachs, and therefore Fräulein Lehmann is absolutely right when she imbues with all possible warmth that moving passage in the shoemaker’s workshop scene in which Evchen inwardly releases herself from Sachs’s heart with an almost passionate spiritual exultation…. (Heinrich Chevalley in Hamburger Fremdenblatt)
…After two of the three local Evchens turned their backs on us, Frl. Lotte Lehmann appeared in the role of Pogner’s daughter, striking us right away with her grace, and clearly establishing her right to undisputed possession of the part. She fulfilled her task with feeling and understanding, with warmly appealing wholeheartedness and sincerity, all qualities that are needed for Evchen. Even the conscious cunning and charming slyness—in worming out of Sachs what she wants to know—found in Frl. Lehmann favorable qualifications. The tone of irritation with Sachs (in the second act) sounded for once like the expression of an upright personality. The excessive impudence and aggressiveness recently noticed here in other interpreters of the role, as well as their tendency to self-dramatization, were this time absent. To the adornment of the part, besides the slenderness of the outward line, were added yesterday the attractive vocal qualities, the naturalness of delivery, and musical tact. Two aspects of the role were extraordinarily well-realized by the new Eva: the delicacy with which she revealed her suspicion of the sorrowful secret that Sachs was hiding in his soul….then the passionate wave of feeling for Stolzing just before the Night Watchman sounded his horn…. (W. Z.)
Meanwhile Salter, her agent, had not been idle. He had secured lucrative guest contracts in Cologne, in Zoppot, and—her first step outside Germany—in London. To make room for those engagements she had to be released from an agreement to sing in Bayreuth. Siegfried Wagner had offered her one of the Valkyries (Ortlinde) and a Flower Maiden. As it turned out, Lotte Lehmann never sang at the Wagner shrine, even though much of her international repertoire consisted of Wagnerian roles.
For Lotte it would be “raining gold,” as she put it, in the summer of 1914. The lean years, the constant financial stress, seemed over. At last she could do something special for her mother. That was always almost an obsession as long as Mama was alive. That constant preoccupation runs through her letters like a Leitmotiv. For some time she had wanted Mama to take the cure at Neuenahr. Now that could be combined with the engagement at Cologne and Mama could be with her on her travels through Germany and do a little sightseeing on the Rhine. But first came England. Lotte had sung at a lavish party in honor of the chairman of the Hamburg-American Line. There she had met John Naht, one of the directors of the company. Mr. Naht and his wife spontaneously offered to accompany Lotte to London and look after her while she was there. That was a great relief to both Lotte and her parents. She sang two performances of Sophie in Rosenkavalier at the Drury Lane. Thomas Beecham was the conductor, Frieda Hempel the Marschallin, and Michael Bohnen the Ochs. Lotte did not set London on fire—yet—but she claimed “a pleasing success.”
The Nahts were so kind as to bring her back to Germany as well, to Cologne, in time for her next engagement. There she sang Agathe, in a production of Der Freischütz conducted and staged by Hans Pfitzner, and Eva, both very successfully. To thank him for his work with her at rehearsals, Lotte gave Pfitzner some white roses, a reference to those in Freischütz. Here are some excerpts from his letter of acknowledgment:
I would also like to say that I am very happy to have met in you one of the greatest hopes for the German stage. Never become—when your fees become higher—a rehearsal-shy prima donna, but remain always an artist who is there to serve the work of art….Now sing a beautiful Evchen, for which I wish I were your coach and conductor.
Mama’s intense, chronic gastric problems were further complicated by an ulcer. The specialist in Hamburg had wanted to operate, but the Lehmanns were afraid of that. Then the doctor found a way to give her blessed relief: an oil that coated her stomach-lining so that food would not irritate the ulcer. Now, after the cure at Neuenahr, she looked better than Lotte had ever seen her and mother and daughter enjoyed the little luxuries that the “golden rain” had brought them.
On the way to Zoppot Lotte stopped at Berlin to make her first phonograph records, for Pathé. They were two arias from Lohengrin, “Elsa’s Dream” and the “Song to the Breezes.”
Zoppot, a seaside resort near Danzig, is now called Sopot and is presently a part of Poland. In those days it was famous for its festival of opera out in the woods, the perfect setting for that celebration of the German forest, Der Freischütz. Lotte, of course, sang the Agathe. Her partner was Richard Tauber and therein hangs a tale:
I have hardly ever seen the Freischütz so enchantingly produced as it was there by the greatest of all producers—Nature. Again and again we were thrilled by the enchanting poetry of our forest setting. Only once I cursed the darkness of the pines when with the cry of joy, “Sweetly enraptured, to him!” I had to rush into Max’s arms [Max is the name of Richard Tauber’s role]. I had won a forfeit from Tauber, and the uncommonly tempting reward was to be a bar of chocolate.
“Where is my chocolate, Richard?” were my first words that evening as I took my place behind the two screens made of interwoven pine branches which hid us from the audience.
“You’ll get it when you least expect it.” Max prophesied with a mischievous smile….
The music started….”Sweetly enraptured, to him!” I exulted and ran into the dark pines where my Max awaited his entry.
He pressed something into my hand, murmured, “j’y pense,” and dragged me onto the scene, into the blinding glare of the footlights.
Now wasn’t that thoughtful of him? Max had brought a bar of chocolate for his Agathe….I quickly laid the marvelous present on a bench….Ännchen [the soubrette] sat on it and couldn’t be moved from her place all the rest of the act.
The first performance was marred by rain and drizzle for an hour; but the show went on as a damp Agathe sang her first aria for five thousand soggy spectators. “Instant Opera,” by the way, was not unknown in those days. One of the features of Lotte’s contract that had pleased her most, after a particularly strenuous season in Hamburg, was the clause that excused her from rehearsals. In those days the singers had much more freedom for individual dramatic interpretation within a traditional framework that tended to be the same from theatre to theatre. The age of the stage director was yet to dawn.
By now she was growing accustomed to beautiful reviews; nevertheless, no artist can take them for granted and it must have been rather gratifying to read words like these: “A finely-schooled voice that gushed forth comfort, a heartfelt interpretation, a highly sympathetic appearance” or “Lotte Lehmann…has at her disposal a magnificent voice.”
What to do with a handful of melting chocolate, whether to sing in the rain or cancel—such questions soon became totally trivial. A world war broke out while Lotte and her mother were in Zoppot. All the performers were in a state of panic. No one knew what was going on. At the station they had to wait for many hours as, one after another, all the trains were being diverted to carry troops to the front. Lotte stood on the platform and watched trainloads of eager young men, singing lusty patriotic songs as they went off to the reality of bloody battlefields.
Back in Hamburg, Lotte was almost shocked to find the theatre packed at every performance, in spite of the war. There were two main differences: more operetta was played than ever before, the more frivolous the better; and salaries were uniformly cut in half. The opera performed for countless charitable causes and the singers were in ever-increasing demand at the hospitals. No family was unaffected. Fritz was called up, but his weak heart kept him from the front. First he did garrison duty; then came an assignment at the war ministry in Berlin. The sons of Baron Putlitz were all sent to the war zone, where one of them was later badly wounded. Erika zu Putlitz served as a Red Cross nurse. For Lotte the war years were no interruption in her steady artistic growth and her series of successes. She felt almost guilty that her personal life was going so well while so much of the world was suffering.
Life for me flows on as usual, as if the frightful world war were not raging outside. My troubles and my joys are still those of everyday. One feels so small and oh so inconsequential, speaking of one’s everyday world while so much blood is flowing and so many tears.
Despite the cut in salary, Lotte was able to pay off all her debts except the debt to Baron Putlitz (and even that—at least the monetary part—was paid off very soon; not one of the surviving forty-seven letters she wrote to Baron or Baroness Putlitz fails to express her deep and enduring gratitude for their ever-ready help). Her successes outside of Hamburg had raised her prestige in her home theatre. Now all the leading German opera houses were open to her if she should choose to leave.
Mama moved with Lotte into the Pension across from the theatre. Poor Papa stayed alone in the apartment, but joined them for meals. Strange to say, this arrangement turned out to be a harmonious solution to domestic tensions and father, mother, and daughter enjoyed each other’s company in a more relaxed way. Mama thrived on the new freedom from household cares. Her health was vastly improved, to Lotte’s enormous relief.
Two men, according to brother Fritz, admired Lotte rather ardently during her Hamburg years, but both were married—and apparently happily. One was her generous benefactor, Konrad zu Putlitz, the other was a remarkably handsome American tenor, Francis Maclennan, her first Siegmund and Tannhäuser, who was married to the English soprano Florence Easton, who was later a valued member of the Metropolitan Opera. But none of Lotte’s flirtations developed into an affair, before her permanent move to Vienna. Her moral code was far too strict, and, besides, her parents constantly had an eye on her. Once Maclennan came to a tête-à-tête at tea time. Papa burst in upon them and had a fit. The gorgeous tenor beat a hasty retreat and kept his distance ever after, except on the stage.
October of 1914 brought Octavian into Lotte’s repertoire. After Sophie, the Rosenkavalier himself. She thoroughly enjoyed the part.
How the public loves me here! One could see that again yesterday in the fabulous success I had as Octavian in Rosenkavalier, which I sang for the first time. The audience kept calling out my name. In Vienna I will have to try to win such love, starting from scratch. They say, though, that the Viennese like to spoil their artists. I leave it up to destiny. That will guide me to what is best.
Lotte never lost that sense of being guided. She always felt a higher power at work, molding her career in accordance with some mysterious, divine plan.
The critics confirmed her newest success:
…With the musical conscientiousness, with the strong artistic instinct and unerring taste which belong to her, Lotte Lehmann has now taken possession of the part of Octavian as well. Her way, which imitates no model and which no one else will find easy to imitate after her, is far from anything that smacks of routine or conventionality and yet just as far removed from any striving for effect, from any oddity. The simple result of a sure artistic instinct which lets nothing divert it and therefore always finds the right way. Lotte Lehmann has the rare ability, the rare courage, to stand still on the stage—perfectly still, without pose, without the meaningless movements with which “routine” tries to cover embarrassment, without grimaces, without the surrogates of true temperament. And in this simple repose, which is quite natural in life and only strange to the stage, she produces a more genuine, stronger effect, than any pause-filling routine was ever able to do. Quite aside from her vocally brilliant performance, which was only occasionally covered by a too eager orchestra, her Rosenkavalier was dramatically a thoroughly distinguished achievement—independent, full of temperament and high-spirited humor. Furthermore, all that is supported by a dazzlingly attractive outward appearance…. (M. L.)
…In the difficult part of Octavian Frl. Lehmann quickly made herself at home with her brilliant dramatic and vocal talent. She was genuinely convincing in each of her impersonations [as Octavian or “Mariandl”]…. (R. Ph.)
Not every word was flattering:
…Poor Quin-Quin [Octavian’s nickname], you’ll have your hands full with your Sophie. You have at least twenty pounds too many around your hips…. (H. Chevalley)
The great Arthur Nikisch, who had conducted her first, bashful Freia years before, now heard her as Sieglinde and Eva and was deeply impressed. His enthusiasm earned her a more than welcome raise from the management.
Then, on October 30, 1914, came her first performance in Vienna, the guest appearance upon which her engagement would depend. In spite of the war, the imperial city seemed bustling with life and gaiety. Lotte encountered starry names at her first rehearsal. Wilhelm von Wymetal, one of the first great stage directors in opera, personally showed her around the house. Franz Schalk, the first of Lotte’s three musical gods, was the conductor (more of him later), Friedrich Weidemann the Sachs, and Richard Mayr, who became an especially treasured colleague as well as the Baron Ochs in Rosenkavalier, was the Pogner. This was a company of giants.
There was only one slightly sour note:
…a man came to my door at the hotel and addressed me urgently and mysteriously through the dividing wall. At first I didn’t know what he wanted until at last I heard the word “claque.”
I burst out laughing. So they did have that here, as my Hamburg colleagues had predicted.
“No, no, I don’t want a claque,” I cried to him, “I won’t pay for my applause. It’s a frightful idea….”
“Think of your career,” came the urgent whisper behind the door. But I remained deaf to his entreaties and at last his ghostly tread took a hesitating departure.
An hour later, smuggled in in some cunning way, a man with a smug, foxy face stood before me, with orders and medals hanging curiously on his coat.
“I’ve come about the claque this evening,” he said clicking his heels and bowing deeply.
“But, I’ve already told you I don’t want it,” I answered impatiently.
“Oh, that was Wessely. I haven’t been here—so Wessely’s been here….”
He shook his fists accusingly to Heaven at this infamous rival. No, he was the real “Chief of Staff Officer” of the claque, esteemed by all. Indeed it seemed to me from what he told me that he must be the chief person in the Opera House….Under his arm he carried a packet of old newspapers, in every pocket gilt postcards and letters with contracts for applause which had been sent to him in strictest confidence, and which he only wanted to show me as a proof of his eminence. At last I had to acknowledge it—one must have him….
When, on the evening, among the enthusiastic calls for Weidemann, Miller, Mayr and Haydter, a few “Lehmanns” were mingled, I wished I could fall through some friendly trap door; Freudenberger’s doing his bit…” I thought with shame, and scarcely enjoyed my success at all.
The reviews next day must have consoled her:
…Lotte Lehmann from the Hamburg Municipal Theatre appeared yesterday as Evchen…. A more charming portrayal would be hard to imagine. That was for once an Evchen such as Wagner must have pictured: of a pleasing cheerfulness, roguish, childlike and naïve, warm and full of feeling, completely natural. A lovely appearance and speaking eyes assist the artist in her finely detailed characterization, an artist whom one would like to hear in other roles as well…. (“rp,” Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 31 October 1914.)
…The Evchen was a charming Frl. Lehmann…gifted with a lovely, pleasant voice and musical sense. A singer who is new in the Vienna Opera; but one will be glad to meet with her more often…. (E. B., Neues Wiener Journal, 31 October, 1914)
In other reviews there was some quibbling about her voice, difficult to judge fairly in a partly parlando role like Eva. Two critics annoyed Lotte by using the word, “soubrettish.” But all in all the critics were very encouraging, for Vienna was accustomed to the very highest standards. Most mentioned the friendly reception given her by the audience.
The successful guest performance put the seal upon her contract with Vienna.
Lotte shared her first, fresh impressions with Baroness Putlitz:
I am now looking forward to the engagement in Vienna. Everything made such a great impression on me. And in Hamburg my voice would surely be over-exerted [by too frequent performances]. What a fabulously beautiful orchestra [the Vienna Philharmonic]! It simply carries one’s voice. And the audience! So enthusiastic, quite different from the cool, reserved Hamburgers. And though my dear colleagues tried hard to talk me out of it [the contract with Vienna] and painted everything there gray on gray, I can see nevertheless that through this engagement I have climbed high as a tower.
After Vienna, Lotte had a guest engagement in Rostock, singing Sieglinde with great success in a cast that included Edyth Walker, the Brünnhilde who had thrilled her so much when she heard Die Walküre for the first time in Hamburg. Brecher was the conductor, a happy reunion. In Rostock Lotte also sang Gutrune.
Back in Hamburg the busy round of rehearsals and performances resumed. There were always new roles to be studied, coached, learned by heart, and staged, always old ones to be revived. In December came Margiana in Der Barbier von Bagdad by Peter Cornelius. In March 1915 Angèle in Opernball, another operetta (by Richard Heuberger), which Lotte found more congenial than Offenbach’s Orpheus. Then, on March 29, her first Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, another landmark in her career, one of her very greatest achievements. “It was a beautiful day,” she wrote the baroness, “when I sang that glorious role for the first time.”
The critics agreed with her:
…The Elisabeth was embodied for the first time by Frl. Lehmann. What this Elisabeth has to give us, has been missing here for a long, long time. All the deep, spiritual empathy, the jubilation of a loving heart, the chaste excitement, the nobility of the young princess, the sudden pain of recognition, the fervor of the prayer, all of that vibrates and rings, rejoices and laments in this highly gifted voice, wins three-dimensional shape and touches us wondrously and enduringly…. The acting of the young artist was deeply moving and revealed again the sure instinct of a talent that penetrates with total accuracy into the being of each of the womanly characters she portrays…. All in all this latest creation of Frl. Lehmann’s arouses again a deep regret that Vienna will take away from us this strong talent…. (M.)
…Yesterday Frl. Lehmann added Elisabeth to her successful Wagnerian impersonations. With the new role she gave again a proof of her rich talent, so capable of development. Frl. Lehmann never offers us cheap theatricality; rather she knows how to surround each of her characters with a halo of true poetry, unfolded from within; and without affectation or anything forced she finds—as if of her own accord—the character and the form that express the inner being and the spirit of Wagner’s art…. (R. Ph.)
…Elisabeth is the niece of a Thuringian Landgrave and not at all related to Brünnhilde, for example. Through tradition, which has accustomed us to Elisabeths of massive sound and massive gestures, that has been forgotten. Lotte Lehmann knows nothing of that tradition. She does not burden her slender voice with trials of strength or her natural feelings with exaggerated pathos and is in spite of that—or perhaps because of that—an Elisabeth as truly Wagnerian as only few others. She settles for simplicity, without simple-mindedness, summons her strength without false heroism for the urgent cry, “Haltet ein!” and builds the prayer through inner emotion to deeply moving fervor…. (M. L.)
…Elisabeth’s declaration of love has never before been heard here with such poetic tenderness…. (M.)
Wherever she went, Lotte was pursued by a troop of adoring fans, most of them young females known as Backfische (literally “baked fish,” the equivalent of flappers or teenagers in English). The shy ones would secretly press a couple of violets into her hand, for instance, and then disappear in the crowd. The bolder ones could be something of a trial. She would see the shadows of their feet through the crack under her hotel-room door, as they were waiting to besiege her the moment she might appear. Sometimes her maid, whose name was also Lotte, had to stand guard.
She [the maid] was very young and imaginative and, really only half a child like the others, was carried away on this whirl of adoration. On the many occasions when she was allowed to go to the opera, she would act like a madwoman the whole day. She particularly liked operas where I wore a crown. This seemed to her the only style worthy of me….My young friends used to tell me that in the gallery she had whole crowds round her to whom she would proudly say: “You can see her now, but I see her every day. I see her in bed and simply everywhere. For she is my mistress.”
Then she would lie herself black in the face about how I always went around in trailing regal robes….When she saw me as Recha [Rachel in La Juïve], she was deeply mortified at the rags I had to perish in. But when the executioners threw me into the pot, she bellowed in despair: “They’re throwing my mistress into boiling oil….”
Rachel (Recha in German) was one of her new roles in her last year as a regular member of the Hamburg Opera.
Her most popular role of all, however, turned out to be Myrtocle in Die toten Augen by Eugène d’Albert. It is the story of a young Greek woman, blind since birth, who is miraculously given sight by the touch of Jesus Christ. The one thing she has longed to see is the face of her beloved husband who has always been very kind to her. She has never been told that he is monstrously ugly. When she sees him he is devastated. For his sake she stares at the sun until her eyes are blind again.
There are several extremely effective scenes and Lotte made the most of them. A tour de force was the moving pantomime in which she sacrifices the gift of sight which had shortly before filled her with such exultant ecstasy. Lotte showed in her face the enormous effort of will needed to keep looking into the sun in spite of searing pain, the bitter acceptance of the return of darkness, and the great love that motivated her renunciation. It was a scene of overwhelming spiritual power as she played it (and as she re-enacted it for her master classes in Santa Barbara forty-five years later).
There was one line that Lotte refused to sing. According to the score, when Myrtocle realizes that she can see, her first words are, “a mirror! a mirror!” Lotte could not accept that. She felt that vanity at such a moment diminished the character of Myrtocle and the glory of the miracle. D’Albert tried vainly to convince her that his libretto was psychologically right, that a blind person would first of all want to see what she looked like. But Lotte simply left out the line altogether and started with the ecstatic, hymn-like phrase, “Light! Light! Everywhere light!” Her performance was so deeply moving that d’Albert had gratefully to admit that she was right.
An aria from Die toten Augen, “Amor und Psyche,” practically became Lotte’s theme song for a while. It was the most frequently requested encore at her concerts whenever she came back to Hamburg.
The successes of Lotte’s last season in Hamburg, the love that welled up to her from the audience there, made her regret that she had signed with Vienna; she asked Gregor to release her from her contract. Fortunately for her future career he refused.
Myrtocle was the role of her farewell to Hamburg. It was her 526th performance there since her debut in 1910.
She gave a party for her colleagues. It was wartime. There was little to celebrate, especially since their beloved Lotte was leaving. There were tears in many eyes as she sang a half-dozen sentimental songs—songs of Vienna.